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Monday, January 25, 2010
Here's who is going to win the Australian Open


MELBOURNE, Australia -- Now that we're into the quarterfinals, we rank the field from 1-16 (men and women combined) on their chances to win the Australian Open.

There are many factors to consider: rank, form, difficulty of draw, time spent on the court and then the important, tangible stuff like biorhythm charts and fate.

So without further ado, here are our rankings.

1. Serena Williams: Williams usually has a blip or two before the quarterfinals. Not here. Her latest victim was tricky Aussie Samantha Stosur, who topped the 11-time Grand Slam champion the last time they met. When the going gets tough, Serena is usually the last one standing. Look for her to become the first woman to repeat Down Under since Jennifer Capriati in 2002.

2. Venus Williams: Venus, burdened by a nine-year drought at non-grass majors, has looked awfully sharp, too. Her form in the final two sets against Italian roadrunner Francesca Schiavone in the fourth round was awesome. Venus moved forward and kept unforced errors to a minimum. If she beats Serena when they battle in the semifinals, there's no stopping her in the final.

3. Roger Federer: Yes, the field is closing on Federer. That we know. But he rebounded nicely following a first-round scare against Igor Andreev, and would you really back Nikolay Davydenko or Novak Djokovic to overcome the 15-time Grand Slam champion in their half? Whoever gets to the final from the other, tougher, section might be mentally tired, even with an extra day off.

4. Rafael Nadal: The above said, write Nadal off at your peril. The defending champion is gaining in confidence, boosted by wins over the dangerous duo of Philipp Kohlschreiber and Ivo Karlovic. He worked extremely hard in the offseason and has something to prove given how 2009 ended, when he lost all three of his matches at the year-end championships -- without winning a set. We get a Roger-Rafa rematch. How nice.

5. Novak Djokovic: Who knows what the Djoker can do? He's had the easiest draw to the quarterfinals of any Grand Slam contender in years, so he won't be tired. At the same time, the heat shouldn't be a factor, since his mouthwatering quarterfinal against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga probably will take place at night (along with any subsequent matches). However, it's a quantum leap from Lukasz Kubot to Tsonga.

6. Andy Roddick: Is Roddick the most gifted player out there? Of course not. But as coach Larry Stefanki points out, he's a much better player than he was 12 months ago, and Roddick is up there with Nadal and Federer when it comes to guts. He's also got that serve, which bailed him out in the fourth and fifth sets against Fernando Gonzalez. He's desperate for Slam No. 2.

7. Andy Murray: The time is now for Murray. He reached the U.S. Open final in 2008 but was unable to take out Federer. He was supposed to win a Slam and thus end Britain's almost 80-year men's drought in 2009, but he didn't make a final. Even if the Scot eliminates Nadal in the quarterfinals, he still has two big hurdles, Federer most likely included.

8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Oh, when will Tsonga be 100 percent healthy? Let's hope it's soon so we can get the best out of him. The Frenchman is coping well with a wrist injury that requires ongoing treatment. Tsonga and Djokovic have played entertaining and competitive matches. However, Federer shows up in the semifinals, and Tsonga is less equipped to deal with the world No. 1 than Djokovic. The Montreal result last summer was a fluke. You remember, Fed blew a 5-1 lead in the third.

9. Nadia Petrova: Petrova gets a wounded and mentally tired Henin in the quarterfinals, and the Russian is high on confidence after upsetting Grand Slam winners Kim Clijsters and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Armed with a thunderous serve and groundstrokes, Petrova is no pusher from the baseline, either. Keeping it together upstairs is key.

10. Justine Henin: Petrova a better chance to win than Henin, you say? Well, the diminutive Belgian is running on empty. Her last three matches, against Elena Dementieva, Alisa Kleybanova and Yanina Wickmayer, have been two-plus hour affairs. She's had a tough time resting after night tussles and is dealing with a nagging leg injury. It has to catch up with her some time.

11. Victoria Azarenka: Azarenka has flown under the radar here, which is probably the way she likes it. If she can replicate the form displayed the first six months of last year, Azarenka can overcome anyone. Taking out both Williams sisters, as the fiery baseliner probably has to do to claim a first major, is a tall ask, mind you.

12. Nikolay Davydenko: This is the guy who's supposed to upend Federer? Davydenko was a nervous wreck against Fernando Verdasco in their fourth-set tiebreaker Monday, unable to seal the deal with two serves at 5-4. Luckily for him, Verdasco blew his chance early in the fifth. Even if Davydenko is up two sets and two breaks against Federer, the match still won't be in the bag. Keep up the humor, Nikolay.

13. Marin Cilic: Cilic is rising fast. He keeps his head down, practices hard and packs a punch from the baseline. But for the 21-year-old Croat to win it all, he probably needs to beat three more Grand Slam winners, not only Juan Martin del Potro. His time will come.

14. Li Na: Peers must envy Li's diet. She's been eating Chinese food in Melbourne. Li is a big, albeit streaky, hitter and ousted Venus Williams, her next foe, on home soil at the Olympics. Her success is a great story, since Li has struggled with one injury after another.

15. Zheng Jie: Zheng, whose quickness is her biggest weapon, has taken advantage of a nice draw. She hasn't faced a top-10 player. Maria Kirilenko is on deck, a winnable tilt, but Petrova or Henin have the edge in the semifinals. Zheng trails Petrova 7-1 and lost her lone match versus Henin.

16. Maria Kirilenko: Kirilenko sounded as if she was just happy to reach a first Grand Slam quarterfinal, advancing when the unfortunate Dinara Safina retired in the fourth round. Zheng has appeared in the Wimbledon semifinals, so she won't be awestruck, and has a 4-1 edge over the Russian.